Why Do Parrots Throw Their Food Away?
Parrots throwing food to the floor is a common behavior among pet birds, but its ubiquity doesn't mean it is well understood. Although endlessly fascinating subjects for ornithologists and guardians alike, much of parrot behavior is still a mystery to us. This doesn't mean we should stop trying to understand it as doing so can help us better understand both parrot bird species and the importance of their role in an ecosystem. Wasting food seems to be one of the most confusing behaviors, but the hypotheses as to why parrots do this are fascinating.
AnimalWised reveals these hypotheses by asking the question why do parrots throw their food away? We look to wild parrots so we can better understand the behavior of domestic parrots, asking ourselves if there is anything we can do to stop it in the process.
The parrot diet
One of our main responsibilities as parrot guardians is ensuring they have an adequate and suitable diet. Diet is essential for their physical and mental wellbeing. Improper diet can generate developmental issues when they are young and weaken their resistance when they are mature. Although the biggest concern is life-threatening disease, one consequence of not providing the right food for the parrot to eat is the appearance of unwanted behaviors.
We may see our parrot throwing their food away, both inside and outside of their cage. A common behavior is a parrot flipping their bowl over and scattering their food in the process. This can imply the parrot has an issue with their diet. A parrot's diet should be made from some combination of the following:
- Pellets: this is a type of extruded feed which is specially formulated to provide complete nutrition to our animal. We can find many brands available with different formats, allowing us to choose the one that best suits our parrot's needs. Although designed to be appetizing to parrots, not all birds will enjoy them as much as others. This is especially so if they were not reared with this type of food.
- Fruit, vegetables and seeds: if we want our pet parrot to follow a diet similar to their wild counterparts, we can feed them fresh fruit, vegetables and seeds, the kind of food present in their natural ecosystems. This is important to remember when we look in closer detail at why parrots through their food away.
A parrot's daily diet should consist of the following:
- Birdseed: 50% of daily total.
- Vegetables: 45% of daily total.
- Fruit: 2.5% of daily total.
- Supplements: 2.5% of daily total.
The supplements we need to give to should be in the form of vitamins, especially vitamins A, B-complex and E. Some of these are important vitamins for a parrot's plumage. They can also derived calcium from cuttlefish bone for parrots, but you will need to speak to your veterinarian before giving any supplements to your parrot.
If we do not provide a suitable diet for our parrot, it is possible they will show their lack of appreciation by throwing their food out of the bowl. In these cases, the parrot will likely not eat and will start to show signs of malnutrition. Solving this problem will require us to provide alternative food which they will eat. This may take a certain amount of trial and effort.
Despite the importance of diet, it is important to know that even a healthy parrot with a suitable diet will still likely throw away their food at times. For this reason, we look at the reasons why both wild and domestic parrots throw their food.
Why do wild parrots throw their food away?
We may see our parrot throwing food from their perch in the cage or wherever they are in the home. It is not only food that they like to toss and throw about. They can pick up various objects around the home, sometimes simply as a form of play or exploration. This is something that wild parrots also do. Why they do so is something researchers have tried to discover for a long time.
The confusion around this behavior is because wasting food is not common in wild animals. Especially during times of scarcity, throwing food away can be counterproductive to survival. One extensive study from 2019 analyzed a vast amount of research and suggested a few hypotheses as to why parrots throw their food. They include the following:
- Unintentional: some parrots may throw food away unintentionally due to their morphology and how they eat their food. Parrots will hold food in their claws and then break open the food with their beak. This can be a messy business and some parrots will simply drop food because they have been unable to eat it properly. In the wild, arguing with another parrot may also result in dropped food. Some parrots may also give up on particularly difficult to eat pieces of food.
- Being startled: if they are spooked by another animal, climactic event or anything else in their environment, they may drop their food as a response.
- Other animals: the amount of food an individual parrot might waste can be staggering. One of the possible reasons for it is so other animals can feed. When food naturally falls from trees, it may be too rotten or too dry to consume. If a parrot throws the food, they animals may have a better quality of food to sustain them.
- Seed dispersal: different animal species are known as types of seed dispersers. Although parrots are considered omnivorous animals, a large part of their diet is granivorous. By throwing the food, they are able to allow more plants to grow in their ecosystem.
Although this study explains some of the potential reasons why wild parrots throw food, it doesn't necessarily explain the impetus behind them. For example, we don't necessarily know why parrots would want to feed other animals. However, we can suggest that parrots may want to disperse seeds since in doing so, they can allow more plants to grow. This gives them more tress to live in and more food to consume.
Why do pet parrots throw their food away?
Our parrots don't only throw food away, but they can sometimes flip over their entire food bowl. This behavior could imply they have a problem with their food, but it is unlikely. The following are more likely reasons why domestic parrots throw their food:
- Messiness: just with their wild counterparts, domestic parrots will often eat in a haphazard way. They will tear at fruit and seeds, leaving pieces to fall to the ground. They may flip over their food bowl because they stand on the edge and it is not sufficiently anchored to hold their weight. They may be spooked by something or will simply drop it because they are done eating in that moment.
- Preference: another reason pet parrots might throw their food is due to preference. Since we take care of all their dietary needs, we will provide a diverse range of foods. Parrots will prioritize certain foods over others, so they may drop the food them don't want to eat as much. This is one important reason we should routinely review our parrot's diet.
- Palatability: if your parrot keeps dropping their food in water, they may be trying to soften it. Some nuts and seeds are too hard for them to enjoy them, so they soak them in water to make them more palatable. They also may do it if we only provide the bird with foods that are not suitable for parrots.
- Boredom: one of the most important reasons why a parrot might throw their food is to do with a lack of stimulation. Parrots are animals that exhibit play behavior for various reasons. They use it to stimulate themselves cognitively, as well as develop skills and learn about their environment. If they do not have sufficient environmental enrichment, they may throw their food as a game to help them play.
When boredom in parrots is prolonged, it can result in the bird developing behavioral problems. These manifest themselves in stereotypies, repetitive acts which have no obvious function. Some studies suggest they are similar responses to human mental disorders such as schizophrenia.
There may also be elements in their environment which cause the parrot to become stressed. In these cases, throwing food may be a symptom of stress in parrots. Various factors can cause the parrot to be stressed, including the presence of other animals in the home, poor socialization, traumatic experiences or even a loud environment.
What to do if a parrot throws food
All species of parrot which were studied showed some level of wasting food, usually by throwing it from trees. It appears to be an evolutionary trait which is reflected even in domestic parrot behavior. While it may not help with seed dispersal as with wild parrots, it is a natural behavior which should not be suppressed. Essentially, it is a behavior we need to accept in the majority of cases. Trying to stop it can do more harm than good.
We will only want to influence throwing food behavior in parrots when it is a sign of there being a problem. For this reason, we should consider the following:
- Assess their diet: some parrots simply may not like their feed. In these cases, we should try other foods and ensure we are meeting their nutritional needs. If we are unsure, consult a veterinarian who is specialized in exotic pets such as parrots.
- Environmental enrichment: our parrot is a very intelligent animal which needs plenty of stimulation in the form of toys and accessories. We will need to introduce them to their cage and ensure they are able to play while we are not around. Take a look at our pet bird enrichment ideas if you need some inspiration.
- Interaction: when we are around, we will need to ensure we provide sufficient interaction to ensure they are well stimulated. Parrots are social animals and many individual species will need to live with other birds to avoid behavioral issues. This is the case with lovebirds as they cannot live on their own.
- Hygiene: ensure the parrot's cage, bowl and accessories are cleaned regularly, especially if they drop a lot of food to the bottom of the cage.
- Remove stress: whatever the cause of stress, you will need to remove it from the bird's environment. If they have a loud environment, you should place them somewhere quieter. If there is a cat which is terrorizing the bird, we need to restrict their access.
If you have addressed the above issues and the parrot still throws their food, you should speak to a professional. They will be able to determine if their food waste is a sign of a problem and provide actionable advice personalized to your parrot's needs.
If you want to read similar articles to Why Do Parrots Throw Their Food Away?, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.
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